Extra-alarm fire in Little Village destroys pallet business, buildings, trucks

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An extra-alarm fire destroyed three buildings, at least half a dozen semi trailers and thousands of pallets in a Little Village business Thursday night and Friday morning according to authorities.

The fire was reported at 11:17 p.m. in the 2500 block of West 25th Street and quickly escalated to a 3-11 fire, which brought 240 firefighters and paramedics to the scene. The extra alarms were called out every few minutes until crews were able to get the fire surrounded.

A giant plume of back smoke could be seen from the Circle Interchange downtown as the fire grew and flames could be seen on Interstate 55 along the Southwest Side.

A box alarm - the most common escalation for routine house fires - was called six minutes after the first call. It was escalated to a 2-11 fire at 11:35 and a 3-11 fire six minutes later. Each subsequent alarm brings extra firefighters, paramedics and equipment.

Among the resources put to work at the fire: a light wagon that lit up the front of the fire area after the main body of fire had been extinguished, a hose wagon carrying a mile of hose, an air truck with extra tanks for firefighters, and a truck carrying extra batteries referred to as the "batmobile."

Crews had a hard time pumping water from the surrounding neighborhood, authorities said. At one point, an engine at the front of the fire went into "vacuum," which means the engine is pulling more water than the main it's hooked to can supply.

The hose connected to the fire hydrant starts to collapse, like if a person were to try and draw water through a pinched straw, Chicago Fire Department Spokesman Larry Langford said. There's also potential for the water main to collapse, he said.

Crews set up engines "in-line," meaning that at least two engines were strung together with hose, pumping water from a hydrant to a piece of equipment meant to supress the fire. A snorkel truck, two tower-ladders with baskets atop ladders that allow firefighters to observe from a height while directing water, and two fire trucks with nozzles attached to the top of ladders, were fed water and poured it on the fire from above.

More than 45 minutes after the fire was first reported, crews still were having a hard time getting water on the fire from the south. Once water was supplied to a rig that could pump it over the top of the fire, a leak sprung through a connection in the hoses and it had to be re-run.

The extra-alarms were struck out about 1 a.m. but crews remained at the scene all night.

Police closed Western Avenue between 23rd and 26th Streets during the fire and traffic on 26th Street west of Western Avenue was dropped to one lane west of the viaduct.

Early on in the fire, curious onlookers parked along a southern entry to the yard and stepped out to watch and take pictures. The lone piece of equipment in the south yard at the time was a truck that wasn't hooked up to water. Firefighters yelled at everyone to move so extra equipment could get into the area.

At some point during the fire, a man just east of Western Avenue on 25th Street had been hit with a bat and was found on his back, bleeding from the back of his head by a deputy chief of paramedics. He was snoring but knocked out and not responding to the deputy chief. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital by an ambulance that responded from Pulaski and Maypole in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side.

pnickeas@tribune.com | Twitter: @PeterNickeas

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